WASHINGTON -- A city council member won the Washington, D.C., Democratic mayoral primary Tuesday, defeating incumbent Vincent Gray in a race defined by a scandal involving Gray's campaign four years ago.
Muriel Bowser tapped into an electorate that tired of the allegations surrounding Gray. Five people who worked on the mayor's 2010 campaign have pleaded guilty to felonies, and Bowser said the city needed to move away from a mayor who faces potential criminal charges.
"The status quo is not good enough for us," Bowser told supporters early Wednesday. "We know that we can do better and we know we need a fresh start."
Bowser, 41, is a D.C. council member and a protege of former Mayor Adrian Fenty, whom Gray defeated in 2010. With votes still being counted early Wednesday, Bowser had 44 percent of the vote to Gray's 32 percent.
The Democratic primary winner has gone on to win every general election since the U.S. capital began electing a mayor 40 years ago. But Bowser will face a credible challenger this November in David Catania, an independent D.C. council member.
Gray defeated Fenty in 2010 by tapping into dissatisfaction among African-American residents. But a series of guilty pleas in federal court have revealed that top campaign aides broke the law to help him get elected. Three weeks ago, prosecutors said Gray knew about an illegal, $668,000 slush fund that aided his get-out-the-vote efforts four years ago.
Gray has not been charged and insists he did nothing wrong. His attorney has said he is preparing for a possible indictment.
In his concession speech, Gray told a subdued crowd at a downtown hotel that he would continue working hard during the last nine months of his term.
"The amount of work that we've done over the last three-and-a-quarter years has been nothing short of phenomenal," the mayor said.
Obviously disappointed, Gray received a warm welcome from the room, reports CBS Washington, D.C. affiliate WUSA-TV. He took the time to thank his supporters, his staff, and highlight the successes of his mayoral term. He also said he hoped to change the date of the primary in the future to get away from campaigns during the winter, calling it "complex and cold."
Gray, 71, led nonprofit organizations and the city's Department of Human Services before he was elected to the D.C. Council in 2004. As mayor, he's known as a pragmatic, detail-oriented technocrat and sound manager of the city's robust finances. The district has enjoyed a surging population, a booming real estate market and relatively low violent crime.
The candidates in Tuesday's primary also included council members Jack Evans and Tommy Wells, either of whom would have been the city's first white mayor.
Catania, 46, has pledged a substance-based campaign. A former Republican, he has championed progressive causes since leaving the party in 2004, pushing to legalize gay marriage and medical marijuana, and to reduce the number of residents without health coverage. He is also white and is one of two openly gay council members. Both Bowser and Gray are black.
He spent Tuesday shaking voters' hands at several precincts.
"No one wants to vote today," he said. "It's a little bit disheartening to see the light turnout. It's a function of people losing faith in the system."